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As Allied forces close in on Berlin in spring 1945, a solitary figure emerges from the wreckage that is Germany. It is Marian Sutro, whose existence was last known to her British controllers in autumn 1943 in Paris. One of a few surviving agents of the Special Operations Executive, she has withstood arrest, interrogation, incarceration, and the horrors of a concentration camp, but at what cost? Returned to an England she barely knows, Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. When the man who hijacked her mission to Paris emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities of the Cold War, she sees a way to make amends for the past.
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Simon Mawer was born in 1948 in England. His first novel, Chimera, won the McKitterick Prize for first novels in 1989. Mendel’s Dwarf (1997), his first book to be published in the U.S., was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and was a New York Times Book to Remember for 1998. The Gospel of Judas, The Fall (winner of the 2003 Boardman Tasker Prize for Mountain Literature), and Swimming to Ithacafollowed, as well as The Glass Room, his tenth book and eighth novel, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize. Trapeze (Other Press) was published in 2012.
If she stares out of the window perhaps the questions will stop. There have been so many questions. The American intelligence officer asked her questions, dozens of questions that referred to a time that seemed so distant as to belong to another person in a different world. She had wanted those questions to stop but they kept on mercilessly:
“How did you get to France?”
“Parachute. I parachuted.”
“When was this?”
When was it? Time was dilated, the whole of her previous life compressed into a few moments, the last year stretching out into decades. “I don’t recall. October, I think. The October moon. Look it up in your calendar.”
Was it last year? Days, months stumbled through her brain, the units of misery, the texture of her existence, a medium she struggled through, like wading waist-deep through icy water. “The year before. Nineteen forty-three.”
“You parachuted into France in the fall of forty-three?” There was incredulity in his tone. “Where was this exactly?”
“The southwest. North of Toulouse. I forget the name of the place...’
“And who sent you?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“Because it’s secret. If you contact British intelligence they’ll confirm my story. Please, do that. Please. I beg you.”
“And then you were arrested. Where was that?”
“In Paris. Near Paris, not in Paris. At a railway station.”
She shook her head. “I forget...”
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